What size chef's knife should I buy?
January 11, 2009 4:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to spend a good amount of money on a chef's knife in the near future, and haven't found a good discussion of the difference between an 8" and 10" knife. What are the salient differences?

I've got a pretty good idea of what brand of knife I want (Shun), but can you tell me if there are significant differences between the two lengths? I'm a relatively large guy with pretty big hands, so I'm not too worried about being able to handle the larger size. Is there a significant advantage to having more blade, or would the larger size get in my way more often than coming in handy?
posted by lhputtgrass to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It is more a question of which blade length works for you personally. If it is the same line and maker then it really is only a question of which feels right in your hand. I would simply practice with each length in the store before dumping the cash.

If it matters, I am a small woman, with small hands and I have a 10" knife and love using that length. The only drawback is the return draw length when I use the tip for a fine mince.
posted by jadepearl at 5:18 PM on January 11, 2009

We have an 8 and a 10. I got both thinking that because I have really small hands I would like the 8". I don't, I hate it, and always use the 10. I think part of the problem is that if you have, say, a large onion, with the 8, I have to either make two slices to get through it, or lift the tip in ways I don't want to. The 10 just seems to work better.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:23 PM on January 11, 2009

If you know that Shun is the brand you want (don't get me started), you should find a place where you can actually try out both sizes. Same goes for any brand, really. You won't know which size is right for you until you've had the chance to use them both.
posted by trip and a half at 5:31 PM on January 11, 2009

I end up using my 10" Wusthof for almost everthing, but of course this is highly subjective, May I suggest a few books (borrow from your library, you don't really need to own them):
An Edge in the Kitchen
Knife Skills Illustrated
Excellent, and informed opinions about all things knife...or compromise and get a 9".
posted by dawson at 5:32 PM on January 11, 2009

My impression is that bigger is better, but you should also have an appropriately sized cutting board, something a couple inches longer than your knife along the diagonal.
posted by chengjih at 5:38 PM on January 11, 2009

The better you are with your knife, the shorter it will seem. I got a 10 incher as a present, and it seemed really big at first. Now it seems just perfect, or even perhaps just a little small. You'll "outgrow" the 8 pretty fast if you cook with any frequency.
posted by zachawry at 5:46 PM on January 11, 2009

Best answer: Mr. saffry here,

It's all a matter of preference. Being a chef of 15 years who would love to get his hands on a Ken Onion knife, I myself prefer 8" knives over the larger size. I find 10" knives unwieldy and heavy for spending hours working with. But, that's just me. There will be plenty of others, possibly including you, with the opposite preference.

That being said, I'd recommend trying out some knives to get a feel for your own preference before making the significant investment that a Shun represents. I've read reviews of Shuns by people with larger hands who find them to be uncomfortable and even difficult to grip comfortably. Like I said, I'd love a Shun Ken Onion, but I've played with a lot of knives, know my own preferences for size and shape and think it would be a great fit for me. From what it sounds like in your post, I'd learn a little more with one or two of the many excellent mid-range knives like Wusthof before jumping right in at the expensive/elite end and possibly getting the wrong product.
posted by saffry at 5:58 PM on January 11, 2009

As the other posters have said, it all depends on what feels the most comfortable in your hand, and in my opinion, it also depends on what you'll be doing with the knife. When I cooked professionally, I always used a 10" chef's knife because I needed the extra leverage you get from the longer blade. Now that I only cook at home, I find the 7" blade on our cheap santoku knife to be more than enough. So if you're only cooking for yourself and a few friends/family, the 8" blade may be fine. But if you plan to spend any significant time with a knife in your hand, then I recommend that you get the 10" blade.

As an aside, I will point out that how much you spend for a knife isn't always an indicator of quality, and the vast majority of cooks, whether they are professionals or home cooks, don't really need the super expensive $100+ knives. I've had a few very expensive knives in my life, and the one that lasted the longest, kept the best edge, and was just a general overall powerhouse was a Forschner Fibrox 10" chef's knife that you can find online for less than $30. That's not to say that the Shun knives are not very good, or that you won't get a lot of enjoyment out of using a very well made knife. But I feel I would be somewhat remiss if I didn't at least mention that spending a lot of money for a knife isn't the only way to get one that will last for years and be very enjoyable to use.
posted by ralan at 6:03 PM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

get the 10". There's nothing funny about trying to hack through a 7"-diameter rutabaga with an 8" knife. That only spells disaster.

I have verrrry small hands (think child-sized), and I can handle one just fine.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:19 PM on January 11, 2009

Nthing the 10, which will seem too big at first but perfect after practice.
posted by rokusan at 6:43 PM on January 11, 2009

Anthony Bourdain says to get the biggest one that feels comfortable in your hand.
posted by lunasol at 6:44 PM on January 11, 2009

I'm going to have to agree with the "try it out for yourself" answer here. I've been progressively using smaller knives (10" chef's to 8" chef's to 7" santoku to 6" chefs) and consider the sweet spot for me to be a 7" santoku knife. I understand that sometimes you really do want a big knife, but I think that's more of an argument for having more than one knife and using what's appropriate for the job. I have giant hands and have been asked why I use a "small" knife. It's what I like. I feel there's a balance between leverage and usability at the point I chose. However, I'm not going to say that's the same for everyone - I have an aunt that's a better cook than I am, a good 1.5 feet shorter, who uses a 12" chefs knife for absolutely everything. It seems to me that when you're using something sharp enough to give yourself a serious injury, you should try it before you buy it to make sure it fits yourself.
posted by saeculorum at 6:47 PM on January 11, 2009

It's entirely preference. I'm 5'2", with teeny hands, and I use a 10" - I use the extra weight to break down chickens and split squashes and things like that, and it works better for me for everyday mincing and such. But you may be different, so go to the store and try it (a good store will let you bring a potato in or might even have something there themselves that you can try a few different cuts on).
posted by peachfuzz at 7:28 PM on January 11, 2009

You should probably go to a store and handle the knives in question, if possible. I've been very happy with my Wusthof 8" chef's knife, and I've heard good things about the Shun Ken Onion. This probably all comes down to personal preference.
posted by paulg at 8:45 PM on January 11, 2009

I use the larger santoku Ken Onion Shun for just about everything. I abandoned my chefs knife (a cutco) a long time ago. I took a knife handling class at Sur La Table and the chef who taught it let me try his various knives which is how I discovered Shun in the first place. That was very helpful.

Everyone here agrees you just have to go try them out, but I will add that it is better to have one really good knife that you use all the time then to try to comprimies and save money. So if the 10" feels right it is absolutely worth it.

Think through what you will use it for. I primarily chop onions, peppers and fruits. Have you cooked anything in the last few months you couldn't cut with an 8" blade? Don't optimize for the exceptions. Optimize for the daily use case.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:08 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everybody talks about knives (which makes sense, 'cause you asked about them) but nobody mentions cutting surfaces, which to my mind are every bit as important as the cutting tool.

Me, I like wood. I like the bite I get using a good knife on wood. The plastic cutting boards may be more sanitary -- maybe -- but they also make it easier for your knife to slip and skip around on the board.

I'll take my Wusthof chef knives (I have an 8" and a 10" and both together prolly cost less the a single Shun) and an good wooden cutting board over a Shun and plastic combo any day.
posted by deCadmus at 9:58 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

smaller knives are easier to use. hands down.
posted by Infernarl at 10:46 PM on January 11, 2009

We have the 8" and the 10" Wusthof plus a bunch of (excellent, hand-made) shorter direct-import Japanese knives. You use them for different tasks.
If I only would get one knife, I always would buy the bigger one. Using a good big knife is absolutely not like trying to maneuver a huge car in a small town. You can chop half a teaspoon of ginger with your biggest knife. No problem. But - and that's my point - you can reduce a cabbage head with it in no time too.
You'll need a laarge cutting board.
Nthing the comment about high-end brands. You'll need a knife that is made of reasonable steel and you'll need to learn sharpening it with waterstones. Even the most horrendously priced knife doesn't keep its edge forever, and I've seen some come from the shop with amazingly crude edges, too.
posted by Namlit at 1:25 AM on January 12, 2009

A lot of it has to do with the edge on the blade. A really good, sharp edge makes a larger knife feel much more nimble.

While you can't change the design of the knife, you can change the edge. Find someone who knows the black art of knife sharpening, and pick a model that has the features you like.

Never cut on glass or stone cutting boards! You'll ruin your edge instantly.
posted by gjc at 5:30 AM on January 12, 2009

Seconding the Forschner Fibrox. Great, very practical knife. Take the money you save here and put it towards a nice pan.
posted by jefftang at 8:34 AM on January 12, 2009

I think it depends somewhat on the size of your kitchen. I have roughly 20" deep counters in my tiny apartment kitchen, which leaves not too much room to maneuver a 10" chef's knife. The one I reach for most often is a 6" black blade Kyocera ceramic knife.
posted by Caviar at 7:47 PM on January 12, 2009

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